From swimming across the River Thames to bring attention to Syrian refugees to pioneering cancer research, there is nothing stopping Saudi women.
Dr Khawla Al-Kuraya
Professor of pathology and director at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre
“What drives me is the desire to one day eradicate cancer completely and to know that I can play a small part in my country’s contribution to cure this global illness,” states Dr Khawla Al-Kuraya. The research specialist has always had a desire to help alleviate people’s suffering and to improve the quality of life for patients. She has a strong message for the generations to come: “Never give up on your dreams and passions and do not underestimate the opportunities before you.” Dr Al-Kuraya was the proud recipient of the Order of Abdulaziz al Saud in 2010, the first woman to receive this order of merit for civilians. Meanwhile, as the mother of four children, her biggest challenge has always been balancing her professional life with her personal duties. Yet, she remains focused and determined. “Cancer research will always be a part of my life. I will continue to advance my e orts on behalf of my country,” she affirms. One of Dr Al-Kuraya’s many aspirations is to one day see a Saudi Nobel laureate. She is also taking it upon herself to empower young women in many leadership roles, to help accelerate the achievement rate of Vision 2030.
Head of international affairs in the executive office of HE Minister Ahmed Alkhateeb and head of international cooperation in the Saudi commission for tourism and national heritage
Diplomat Haifa AlJedea is a woman on a mission. “I watched and listened to my father talk about diplomacy and meet with influential figures. I also participated in events where he hosted high-level officials, such as the secretary-general of the UN, ambassadors, and ministers,” she says. Driven by a need to pursue a meaningful career, AlJedea studied towards a degree in broadcast journalism. “I was frustrated with how Muslims and Saudis were being portrayed in US media,” she says. “However, after an internship at the UN headquarters in New York, I was immediately captivated by its mission and international scope.” She next completed a master’s in international affairs, with a focus on foreign policy and multilateral organizations. Her career at the UN would launch thereafter. She thrived working with the UN counter-terrorism center and representing the Kingdom as an advisor on the Security Council at the Saudi Mission to the UN. In a strategic rise up the political ladder, AlJedea returned to her homeland to contribute to initiatives under the Vision 2030 program, including improving the quality of life for citizens and enhancing tourism. In her current roles, she exercises her leadership skills on a daily basis. “I ensure that the international-relations approach across all entities is strategic and in line with the direction of the country’s leadership and the minister, as well as ensuring that Saudi tourism is a key player in the international arena.”
HRH Princess Noura AlFaisal
Designer and founder of Nuun Jewels
“I have been working in the jewelry design eld for more than 20 years,” starts HRH Princess Noura AlFaisal. “In the beginning, I mostly worked on realizing commissions, and then, in 2014, I launched my own brand, Nuun Jewels. The boutique is located in Paris and also regularly hosts labels like Nathalie Trad. “I always had an affinity for jewelry, even as a young child, as well as a love of art and design in all their forms,” she continues. “It was a very natural evolution and not at all planned.” The royal’s desire to foster local design talent in Saudi Arabia has extended to creating the mentorship program Sougha. Her ethos is resolutely sustainable. She believes that jewelry should rise above local trends and fashion and be timeless. “My hope is that my pieces become family heirlooms,” she says. She comes from a long line of strong women on both sides of her family, who have shown her what to aspire to in both her personal and work life. While learning to build a brand and a sustainable business has at times been di cult, where she finds herself most comfortable is being creative and designing. “I am blessed in that I love what I do. That is more than enough.”
Dr Majdah Mohammed Ahmed Aburas
Associate professor at King Abdulaziz University Jeddah, co-founder and chairman of the Saudi Environmental Society
Dr Majdah Mohammed Ahmed Aburas is an expert in environmental biotechnology, an advanced and specialized area that is rarely practiced in the region. “Ever since I was a kid, I felt a responsibility towards giving back to my community and volunteering,” she says. “I realized at a young age the damage pollution and waste cause for the environment, and the lack of awareness about this subject in our communities.” She’s always wondered why Saudi Arabia didn’t have a responsible entity to tackle environmental issues. “I was frustrated about the lack of awareness,” she shares. That led her to establish an organization dedicated to the cause – and so the Saudi Environmental Society was founded. “It is our responsibility as a community to work together to maintain a high standard of living in an eco-friendly world,” she says. A proud Saudi, she admires the Kingdom’s ongoing transformation and believes it is setting the tone for women to fully realize their potential. “Nothing is impossible, as long as you have a clear vision and a sustainable way to achieve it.”
Animation and VFX producer
Jumana Shaheen is a visual effects producer with a passion for the film industry. “In the beginning, everyone thought I was too young. That was somewhat crippling,” she shares. “But once I stopped listening to others and just focused on my actions, I proved that I could act responsibly.” She has since gone on to produce visual effects for shows like Modern Family, Black-ish, and Taylor Swift’s record-breaking video for “Look What You Made Me Do.” Shaheen’s career began in 3D modeling. “The reason I’ve always enjoyed the art of filmmaking is because it is a channel to really communicate a story,” she says. Shaheen strives to play a role in changing the perception of Saudi Arabia in Western media. “Whenever we’re represented, it’s done in a way that really wasn’t right,” she says. Shaheen hopes to help foster understanding, not only within the US but globally, and bridge the gap of understanding. “It is so inspiring to finally have the ability to share your work, not just online, but that there is now a place in Saudi where you can share your movie in a cinema. e industry is still young and it is important to learn from the mistakes of other industries abroad.”
Reem Al Aboud
Reem Al Aboud’s father was her inspiration to enter motorsports. “My father was a racer so I enjoyed being around cars and racetracks. He is my number one motivation,” she shares. Al Aboud was the first Saudi racer, at age 19, to test-drive the Formula E car, after a journey of practice and improvements. She does not believe that there is such a thing as a male-dominant sport. “Women are remarkably proving themselves and excelling in various fields,” she states. She believes practice makes perfect, not only in motorsports, but in all fields in life. Competing against drivers with more experience might be a challenge facing Al Aboud, but she does not consider it an obstacle. To overcome it, she feels she must always believe in herself and her abilities, and never stop working. “Now is our time to prove ourselves as much as we can. Since Saudi women have the full support from our country, there are no excuses now.” Al Aboud firmly believes that the environment in the Kingdom today will help nourish and improve its many talents.
Alaa Bahri is the first Saudi and Arab woman specialized in the fabrication and fitting of ocular prosthetics for people who have lost an eye. “There is a need for this profession in the Middle East, not only in the Kingdom,” she says. “It’s amazing how transformative the process can be in people’s lives.” Bringing an artistic touch to the science she masters, she shares, “I enjoy painting matching colors and make the ocular prosthetics as natural as possible.” Prosthetic eyes have been available since Egyptian times, while glass eyes existed since the first world war. By the second world war, acrylic eyes came on the market. Bahri shares that traditionally, the profession is passed from one generation to another. For her – an “outsider Saudi girl” – to acquire such expertise from an established line of families, is a great achievement. Additionally, her line of work is not yet registered or licensed as a profession in the Kingdom. “Nothing is impossible. My advice to young Saudi females is to choose something you love so that you can make a difference in this world. When you love what you do, you excel.”
Founder of Yashki, home stylist, and space planner
“My true passion is helping to inspire your everyday,” starts Yasmin Alkhawashki. From a young age, she enjoyed homemaking – from organizing and dining to decorating, DIY, and finding new ways to use existing furniture. She’s since turned her passion into a career. “Realizing that this is my vocation took time, and yet everything I have previously done led me to understand just how much home means to me.” For the love of home and giving, she looks to share her knowledge with others. “I started home styling and teaching people how to reflect their personalities in their personal abodes.” Dealing with different personalities who have divergent perceptions on the outcome of a project is her biggest challenge. “I learn from each person I meet, and I work on how to become stronger and more con dent every time.”
Dr Mariam Binladen
Dentist, athlete, and humanitarian
Dr Mariam Binladen is the only woman in history to swim the length of the River Thames (177km) in the UK. “Like most people, I was bombarded with media images of suffering children in Syria and I felt overwhelmed with emotion and quite helpless,” she recalls. Those images inspired her to swim across the English Channel to raise awareness and draw attention to the refugee cause while achieving a life-long ambition. “Of course, at that stage I had no idea of the amount of determination and dedication that would be involved,” she says. Dr Binladen suggests that in order to follow their dreams, women cannot be deterred by doubters. “Surround yourself with like-minded positive thinkers and go for it.” Dr Binladen – a dentist by day – believes that times are changing for Saudi women and girls of all ages. “Sport now features as part of the national curriculum and there are more municipal facilities,” she says. As an advocate for many humanitarian causes, she opened the first dental clinic at the IMC Hospital site in Al Azraq Refugee camp in Jordan in 2016. The clinic is a joint collaboration with the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization and IMC Hospital and provides dental and oral care free of charge. “This clinic motivates me to keep going because I can see the fantastic work involved in treating and maintaining the oral health of 55 000 Syrian refugees, 60% of whom are women and orphaned children.”
HRH Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
A staunch advocator for the empowerment of women, the ambitious Saudi businesswoman, entrepreneur, and humanitarian is a prominent figure in the Middle East. Named as one of Forbes’ 200 Most Powerful Arab Women in 2014, Princess Reema continues to build on her long list of achievements. In 2019, she was appointed as Saudi Arabia‘s first female ambassador to the United States. Weeks later, the royal was tapped to head the Gulf country’s newly-established Special Olympics Federation. For decades, Her Royal Highness has been shattering glass ceilings and pushing boundaries for Saudi women across the Kingdom. In recognition of these efforts, in 2016, she was appointed Vice President for Women’s Affairs of the General Sports Authority, just days before the 2016 Olympics. Later, in July 2020, she became the first Saudi woman to be appointed to the International Olympics Committee.
HH Princess Noura bint Faisal Al Saud
Her Highness Princess Noura bint Faisal Al Saud became the honorary president of the Arab Fashion Council, in 2018 and has looked to develop Arab fashion week in Riyadh to become “more than a world-class event.” With a focus on Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Her Highness has stressed the plans to reduce the country’s dependence of oil and diversify the economy, with Arab fashion week being key to this. “It is a catalyst through which we believe the fashion industry will lead other economic sectors, such as tourism, hospitality, travel, and trade,” she said. Using her voice as a prominent figure in Saudi Arabia’s fashion industry, Her Highness Princess Noura is heavily involved with promoting a woman’s point of view. “It can be very diverse, just like every woman – each one is different,” she says. “A woman can be beautiful and strong, and all these values can be expressed through a personal sense of fashion and style.”
Originally published in the June 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia
Photographer Djinane Alsuwayeh
Creative Director Aram Kabbani
Make-up Artist Reem Alswaidi and Ohoud Mazin
Hair Stylist: Elma Ali Arab
Editorial & Fashion coordinator Mohammad Hazem Rezq
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